Thu, Dec 28, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Death penalty debate all too quiet

By Peter Huang 黃文雄

On Friday, the Chinese-language China Times published an article about the EU's concern over the death penalty in Taiwan.

On the surface, the concern appears to have been generated by the Minister of Justice signing an execution order for Chung Teh-shu (鍾德樹) earlier this month, but the reasons for the EU's interest run much deeper.

Since the end of World War II, the UN has led a movement to abolish the death penalty. For example, the UN International Court of Justice excludes the death penalty.

This movement has made noticeable progress over the last few decades.

Currently, 88 countries have no death penalty at all, 11 use it only in times of war and 30 have not carried out an execution in over a decade.

Of the remaining 68 countries, only 22 carried out an execution last year.

This progress has several causes.

The UN has promoted this trend, as have international human rights organizations and individual governments.

The EU has been a leading voice in the campaign to end the death penalty across the globe.

Not only are countries that seek to join the EU required to abolish the death penalty, but one prominent foreign policy goal of the EU as a whole and its member countries is to encourage other nations to abolish the death penalty.

Another major catalyst in the trend towards a global abolition is the sense of urgency created by the progress of the movement.

Last year, only 22 countries carried out an execution.

Of these 22 countries, China accounted for 82 percent of executions, making it the leader of the pack. China has naturally become a primary target for human rights activists.

The US and Japan are responsible for far less than 10 percent of executions. However, because they are so-called developed countries, they have been condemned as much as China.

Taiwan executed only three people last year, so the reason Taiwan has attracted attention is more complicated.

Taiwan's level of development is high, and so international expectations are naturally higher for Taiwan than for other countries conducting executions, like Iran or Saudi Arabia.

Furthermore, countries which have already abolished the death penalty hope that a Taiwanese abolition would become a model for China.

If China were to make progress on this front, pressure on the US and Japan would no doubt increase.

Finally, Taiwan announced its intention to gradually abolish the death penalty six years ago, and this has naturally raised international expectations and demands.

It is here that we must further examine Taiwan's rate of progress on putting an end to capital punishment.

Taiwan has made some progress in the last six years.

The number of crimes that carry the death penalty has dropped drastically from a notorious count of over 160 during the authoritarian era.

Some crimes used to carry the death penalty with no room for the court to reduce the sentence, but this has been entirely abolished.

However, 49 crimes still carry an optional death penalty.

Executions are also more carefully considered than before. Although 22 death penalty convictions have accumulated this year, as of Dec. 1, Taiwan had not yet carried out a single execution.

If this continues through the end of the year, it will be the first year in the ROC's history with no executions. Naturally, the whole world is watching, especially the EU.

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